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2004 NFL Playoffs Scores Schedules Injuries Statistics Teams Players

Posted: Friday January 7, 2005 11:30AM; Updated: Friday January 7, 2005 4:42PM
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Buffalo Bills rookie head coach Mike Mularkey led his team to a 9-7 record this season, the franchise's first winning mark since 1999. Mularkey, a former NFL tight end, shares his analysis throughout the playoffs with SI.com's Don Banks.

 Jets vs. Chargers
Chad Pennington
Elsa/Getty Images

New York beats San Diego if ... the Jets can get their confidence level back to where it needs to be in the playoffs. One of the things working on one side and not on the other is the confidence factor. I know San Diego, especially at home, is very confident. But the way the Jets finished, they're struggling a little bit with their confidence. It's hard to finish the season that way, losing three of their last four, and go into the playoffs with any momentum. It's just a natural reaction to question how you are right now. Are you going in going in as strong as you can, or have you lost confidence from losing the last couple games? To me that's a huge factor, whether you're a player or a team -- confidence.

Another key to the game for the Jets is going to be the line of scrimmage and whether they can run the ball at the Chargers' defensive front seven. The Jets have to establish that they can do that, because their running game is kind of their bread and butter. Curtis Martin is running so well. It's amazing. Just like Jerome Bettis, it looks like both of those guys, with their footwork, are better even than they've been in the past. Some how Martin has found another gear even at this stage of his career.

People keep talking about Chad Pennington's shoulder and his arm strength, but throwing the ball downfield is not really their offensive mentality. I know they take their shots when they get them, but they just want to get the ball into the hands of their weapons offense. Santana Moss, if you get the ball into his hands, regardless of where he's at, he's got the potential to make yards for you. With Pennington, they just want him to manage the game, and know where everybody is. And it's hard to get to him because that is their mentality. I don't think they really need a strong-armed guy running that offense.

On defense, I know Herman Edwards and Donnie Henderson, and they're high energy coaches. I know their players feed off them, and probably take it personally that they've given up some points the past two games. I'd be shocked if the Jets' defense doesn't respond to that challenge and tighten things up against the Chargers.

San Diego beats New York if ... it continues to get so many different contributors on offense. What's great about what the Chargers have done is they haven't won with one or two guys this season. It hasn't been all LaDainian Tomlinson. They haven't had to rely on just him. Antonio Gates has been a huge find at tight end. But at some point everybody has been a difference maker in making that thing run. Obviously it starts with Drew Brees at quarterback, and he's been about as consistent as you can be. But they have enough there that it's almost like pick your poison, which ones are it going to be this game? Because they've got that kind of offensive talent.

The Chargers' offensive line has been a great success story this season. And I'm a big believer in that it doesn't matter who you've got running or throwing, if you don't have the guys up front to protect or open the holes, you're not going to win. In the chances I've had to see the Chargers this year, those guys are just getting it done. For a group that hasn't played together long, and has a couple rookies in the lineup, they've really come together quickly.

Defenses have started to take Gates away a little bit, but that just means other guys have to step up and make them pay for taking him away. Defenses will try and take your most dangerous option away, and for San Diego, that has been Gates this season. But your other guys come to the front then and start making plays, and the Chargers have been a great example of that, with Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker and Kassim Osgood stepping up.

What I love about the Chargers' defense is the coaching staff is using those guys perfectly, according to their strengths. Their linebackers, Donnie Edwards, Steve Foley, Randall Godfrey, instead of forcing a scheme on them, the coaching staff has realized what they have and what they do well, and put them in the right spots to make plays and have success.

 Broncos vs. Colts
Champ Bailey
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Denver beats Indianapolis if ... it can some how limit the damage Peyton Manning does. When you play the Colts, it's not only can you stop Manning, it's can you stop an offensive coordinator's mind in that quarterback's body? Denver has to try and take the big play away as best it can. Manning just knows where everybody is and he puts his offense in the right situation on a consistent basis. What you have to try to do on defense is just take away the Colts' best situation. Decide what you can live with when you're facing them, and figure out if you can win with that. But know what you can't afford to live with, and what you're probably going to lose with, and try to address that and take that away. There's no shut down way to control all of it, so you try to take the most dangerous threat away. With the Colts that would be the big play.

It's really important that Denver's cornerbacks and nickel defenders disrupt the Colts receivers' releases at the line. You've only got five yards to work with these days, but within those five yards you can do a lot of damage to not only the timing of the pattern, but the mentality of the receiver. I think probably what you'll see early is much more jamming and much more contact, regardless of the coverage, just trying to disrupt the flow of the play. I'd be surprised if Denver doesn't play it that way.

On offense, the Broncos' best option is to hold the ball and try to control the clock with Reuben Droughns, Tatum Bell and the running game. Sometimes your best defense really is your offense. A lot of that will come down to third downs. Third downs will be big in the outcome of this game. If you're converting them, you're keeping drives going and that's going to keep the Colts offense off the field.

Jake Plummer can't make the big mistake against the Colts. He has to take what the Colts give him, given that Denver needs to be thinking ball control. He has to be a disciplined quarterback and not try to do more than the offense is asking him to do. If he's asked to make a big throw, hit it. But if it's not there, then dump it down.

Indianapolis beats Denver if ... it doesn't change a thing about its attack mentality on offense. The Colts will attack you, and I can't imagine they would do anything differently at this point. They've had success with that style, and they're going to live with it and trust it. They're going to let Peyton Manning put them in the right situation on downs, run that fast-tempo style, and just play their efficient type of offense. It's not an offense that's going to get frustrated. They're going to do the frustrating. It's the defense that gets frustrated.

With those three receivers, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Brandon Stokely, plus Edgerrin James and the two tight ends, Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard, the Colts' offense seems to have an answer for everything you can do to them. They just find a way to get the ball to one of those guys when they need to, and they've all been the star of a game or two at one time or another. It just seems to unfold that way because the quarterback puts them in that situation. And it's all based on what the defense gives. Who's that defense trying to take away? Peyton may take some time to figure that out, but as soon as he does, that's when he becomes dangerous.

On defense, the Colts have the pass rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and the rest of the unit is made up of solid, but unspectacular guys. They're mentality is going to be a lot like Denver's on defense. Just don't give up the big play. Don't let people get behind you. Discipline is going to be a big theme, because Denver runs a very misdirection type offense. They're trying one way or another, with the run game and the cutback lanes, or the bootleg calls, to get you out of your lanes.

If you're a gap defense, you better be in your gap and you better trust that your teammate is, too. Don't blow any assignments, because Denver is trying to deceive you, showing you the same things a lot of different ways. You've got to trust that you're doing your job and make sure you stay disciplined. Your teammates might be making all the plays, but at some point, that ball is going to come your way and you've got to be ready when it does.

Mike Mularkey's NFL Breakdowns: NFC

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